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McHenry County GOP chairman quits
Says potential investigation of state's attorney puts him in ethical bind
By Charles Keeshan and Amy R. Mack | Daily Herald Staff

Bill LeFew

 

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Published: 10/18/2007 5:44 PM | Updated: 10/19/2007 12:11 AM

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McHenry County Republican Party Chairman Bill LeFew stunned members of his party Thursday, and likely sent shock waves through the office of a political rival, announcing he would resign his post within 60 days because of official complaints against the office of McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi.

Speaking before dozens of supporters at his own fund-raiser, LeFew said the complaints to the Illinois Attorney General and Chicago Crime Commission accuse Bianchi of spending taxpayer money on political and personal uses.

An investigation of those allegations, he said, would create a conflict of interest between his ability to serve a fourth term as GOP chairman and his elected position as county treasurer.

"I now have an ethical conflict," he said. "The chairman of the party's job is to support and protect Republican candidates. At the same time, as treasurer, I would be asked to provide copies of checks and other items as part of an investigation.

"I have a choice: to work for the party or work for the people," LeFew added. "I choose, as I have the last 34 years of my political career, to do the right thing and work for the people."

Bianchi could not be reached for comment Thursday night. Messages left at his home and mobile telephone numbers were not returned.

An Illinois attorney general spokesman did not return a call for comment Thursday and a crime commission official declined comment.

LeFew was at one time a political supporter of Bianchi's, but their relationship turned sour after the chairman believed the newly elected state's attorney tried to oust him from his post as the party's leader. Bianchi denies accusations he was behind the failed party coup.

On Thursday, LeFew said he was not responsible for the complaints against Bianchi, but is aware of who is and will not identify that person. Copies of the complaints, he said, were delivered to him as party chairman.

The formal complaints come a month after the Daily Herald, using Freedom of Information requests, revealed the state's attorney's office received more than $17,000 in taxpayer-funded reimbursements for candy, soda, ice cream, cookies, coffee, meals and other items since Bianchi took office in December 2004.

Some of the reimbursements were for poinsettias for employees at Christmas, food for Bianchi's swearing-in luncheon and a new briefcase for the state's attorney.

Bianchi has defended the spending as legitimate business expenses.

Although rumors of LeFew's pending resignation began to filter across county political circles Thursday afternoon, the decision shocked most in a fundraiser crowd that included state legislators, county officials and Bianchi's foe in next year's Republican primary, Dan Regna.

"I'm deeply concerned as a candidate and a citizen of McHenry County about the information coming out about our current state's attorney," Regna said. "The taxpayers should be outraged."

John Jung, vice chairman of the McHenry County Board, shared those concerns, but said he hoped there is nothing to the allegations.

"At this point, it's just a complaint and you don't know if there's anything to it," Jung said. "I hope it's just a political thing."

One Bianchi supporter in the crowd Thursday accused his party chairman of pulling a political stunt.

"This is what's destroying the Republican Party in McHenry County, these power struggles, and it's got to stop," said Mark Guerra, an Algonquin Township precinct committeeman.

LeFew did not formally endorse a successor, but made it clear several times his preference would be either state Rep. Mike Tryon of Crystal Lake or Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley. His replacement will be elected by a vote of the county GOP's 198 precinct committeemen at a future party meeting.

Shepley said he was flattered by LeFew mentioning him as a replacement, but would not rush into deciding whether to seek the post.